Jack Nathaniel Walter was born on May 16. He’s been with us for two weeks now, and those two weeks have honestly seemed like two months. We’re finally getting into a bit of a rhythm as a family of four, and I wanted to capture his birth story now before it gets lost in the haze of sleep-deprivation-induced memory loss.
The Monday Jack was born, he was two days past his estimated due date. I’d been having contractions for weeks and weeks, several times they were regular enough that I’d thought I was going into labor. But that weekend I’d had a total respite from contractions. I’d taken Friday off work and indulged myself in some frivolous time-wasting. I’d gone to the greenhouse on Saturday and picked up flowers and herbs for my deck and my mom helped me plant them. All in all, it was a nice way to spend my last weekend with any amount of free time.
Monday morning I was dreading going to work for yet another week of trying to stay awake and not be horribly distracted by contractions. But I woke up and had some “show” (that is the polite term for the disgustingness that can come out of a woman when she’s going to give birth soon). I just knew that this was going to be the day, and I didn’t want my water to break while I was at work, so I decided to work at home. I sent Eva to daycare and Brad to work and told him I’d call him as soon as anything happened.
At about 10:30, I started getting light contractions; nothing more intense than I’d been already going through for months. I kept working, quickly trying to finish some things that had just come up that day. I started doing tons of laundry, because I knew that it’d be easier to do now than after the baby was born. I went to get the mail and bring in the garbage can, partly just to see if it would get things going.
Halfway back down the driveway while dragging the garbage can, I had my first contraction that was hard enough that I actually had to concentrate through it. I still wasn’t convinced I was in real labor, but after I came back inside, I had two contractions one on top of the other that were pretty intense. I felt like my body was warning me that things were about to get serious, so I called Brad and had him come home.
At 1:45pm, Brad walked in the door. I was about to tell him I wasn’t sure if it was real labor or not, but I was glad for the company. But before I could say anything, my water broke. I couldn’t believe the perfect timing. We called the midwife and she said I’d better head to the hospital. I texted my mom, “water broke. Plan to pick Eva up from daycare today!”
The ride to the hospital was exhilarating. I was truly excited to give birth. So far everything was working out perfectly. I wasn’t in a ridiculous amount of pain, and I’d prepared to the nth degree to have this birth in a way that was less traumatic than Eva’s birth. With Eva, I’d had a bad reaction to an epidural, and Eva had ultimately been violently sucked out of me with a vacuum extractor. It was not something I ever wanted to go through again, so I knew that this time around I had to go natural. I’d learned some basic self-hypnosis to cope with the pain and was planning a water birth.
After driving around downtown St. Paul for 10 minutes trying to find the emergency entrance to St. Joes, we finally arrived at the hospital. Another birthing mom was arriving at the same time. She was in much worse condition than I was in, whimpering and moaning as she was wheeled by in a wheelchair. They put me in a wheelchair too, and we all went up to the maternity center together. I was feeling unjustifiably smug about my hypnobirthing calmness and how well I was handling my contractions. I wouldn’t be making noises like that, I thought.
As I settled into my labor room, I could hear the other woman in the room adjacent to mine. Her moaning and screaming got worse. I tried not to listen or let it affect me. I was starting to get a bit scared of natural childbirth! The midwife arrived and checked me and I remember saying through one of my contractions, “I hope she’s okay.” The midwife kind of chuckled at this, like it was weird that I’d be thinking about anybody else at a time like this. Eventually her screaming stopped and I heard a baby cry and I was really relieved.
I don’t have a good sense of time, but I labored pretty easily for the next few hours. I spent some time walking around, then sat in a chair for a while and listened to my hypnobirthing scripts, which helped me stay relaxed through the contractions. I labored for a while in a hot bath and it was amazingly more relaxing and easier; once I’d experienced labor in a tub, I knew I wanted to birth in the birthing tub. I labored for a while on a balance ball.
Then things started to intensify quickly. I started getting contractions one after the other with only maybe 30 seconds or a minute between them. I was still able to remain calm and cope with the pain quite well, but I was starting to get nervous because the midwife was telling me that the hospital’s one birthing tub was still occupied by another mother. I’d been told by the nursing staff when I toured the hospital that they almost never have two moms wanting to use it at the same time, so I could pretty much count on being able to birth in the tub.And I had been counting on it, because I knew what a relief it would be to get into the hot water.
The pain started to get ahead of me and I started to make some noises, involuntarily. I remember thinking that this was what I got for being smug about that other mom making noises. The midwife told me that vocalizing was fine and that if I made low, gutteral sounds, it would actually help the baby move down. So I proceeded to moo like a cow, or maybe like a really badly injured cow that ought to be put out of its misery. It was at this point that hypnobirthing pretty much went out the window. I yelled at Brad, “turn that music off!” and there was no way I could stay calm at this point.
I climbed into the bed, thinking maybe I could take the pressure off somehow if I was laying down. But laying down made it so much worse. Then I didn’t feel like I could get back up again. Suddenly I broke out into a sweat and was outrageously hot. I realized somewhere in the back of my injured-cow mind that I was probably in transition.
Out of nowhere, I felt the urge to push. “I need to push!” I yelled out. “I need to be in the tub!” But the tub wasn’t available. I just kept repeating over and over, “I need to be in the tub!”
So my midwife and the nurse, bless their hearts, started filling the bathtub in my room. I don’t know what we were all thinking, but we decided to have a water birth in a regular old bathtub, in a tiny bathroom no wider than the bathtub itself.
Before they could even finish filling the tub, I was crawling into it. They had a thermometer in the water trying to get it to optimal body temperature for the baby when he came out. “It’s too hot!” I said. “She’s right,” one of them said, and they started adding cold water. “Now it’s too cold!” I said. “We should just stop looking at the thermometer and listen to her,” said the midwife, “because she’s right.”
Pushing a baby out of your body while laying in a little bathtub is awkward business – especially since the baby has to emerge fully immersed in the water, so you have to angle your body just right. They tell me it took something over an hour to get him out. It felt like an eternity. It was really, insanely hard work. The pain level wasn’t as high as transition was, but pushing that hard was just really, really exhausting. Between pushes I was huffing and panting trying to get some oxygen, and they kept telling me to slow down my breathing but I couldn’t seem to control it very well. Brad was trying to hold my body up so I didn’t slump into the water, and the nurse and midwife were crowding in trying to help deliver the baby. I had my arms behind me, bracing myself at my lower back and, whoa, my arms ached like nobody’s business for days afterwards.
Eventually the midwife told me to reach down because I would be able to feel his head, and she said he had dark hair. I thought, “dark hair? Not possible,” and I reached down and I felt my baby’s head for the first time. It was an incredible experience and one I have thought back on fondly many times in the last two weeks. Sometimes when I’m holding Jack and running my hands over his silky dark hair, I feel that spot on the back of his head that I had first touched and I feel connected to him in a way that I couldn’t right after having Eva ripped out of me the way she was.
It took a bunch more pushes before he started to really come out. I hadn’t realized his head was out — I was surprised by that, because I thought I would feel something different at that point — until the midwife told me to push once and his shoulders would come out. And then, next thing I knew, he was out and I was saying, “I want to hold my baby; give him to me”.
So, almost exactly seven hours after my water broke, Jack was with us. The birth wasn’t easy but I would have done it exactly the same way again in a heartbeat. And everything since then has been an order of magnitude easier than it was with Eva. Part of it is his mellow disposition. Part of it is that we’re more experienced and less anxious. Part is that the birth was easier, and easier to bounce back from. We’re having plenty of challenges, especially challenges unique to being a family of four now, but taking care of this baby is so much easier this time.
Soon I want to write in more detail about what the first two weeks have been like, but for now I must sleep…